The complete Brahms Sonata No. 1 for piano and cello in E Minor, op. 38 and new works by Tony Schemmer
I admit— I’m not your typical classical music reviewer. It’s not what I normally listen to. I only started getting exposed to the genre a few years ago and I’ve just barely scratched the surface of figuring out what I like.
I still zone out a bit when I listen to a classical CD. I can’t follow the themes well enough and I get lost in some of the complexities. I never find enough rhythm to hold me steady. My mind drifts. I forget that the music is being played by hand.
For me, it’s easier to watch classical music being performed. It helps me focus. Seeing the musicians move and coax the sounds out of their instruments reminds me that I’m witnessing a moment. I like it when that the only thing separates me from the artists is the space and the air and the vibrating sound waves. It reminds me that music is simply an extension of the musician. This is how I best appreciate classical music. And this is how I first heard the piano and cello duo of Constantine Finehouse and Sebastian Bäverstam.
I saw them perform 3 years ago in a small town hall building in the middle of nowhere. There were less than 50 people in the room. It was 11:00 am. My expectations were pretty low. Then Sebastian started to play. But play’s not the right word. He started to vibrate. He started to sway. He started to become the cello. And then he became the whole room. His sound was huge but his presence was even larger. And at the time, he was only 19. But by then, he had already won the Harvard Music Association Young Artist Award, the New England Chamber Music Foundation Award, the New England Conservatory Preparatory School Concerto Competitions, the Suzuki Association of America and the International Young Virtuoso Competition as well.
I approached Constantine, the pianist, after the performance and introduced myself. I mentioned I do music reviews and he told me that they were planning on cutting an album. I’ve been eagerly waiting for it ever since. Well, that’s putting it nicely… I’ve been harassing Constantine every few months since then to ask how the album is coming along. It was intended to be released in 2010 with recordings by Franck, Schemmer and Shostakovich.
“That was the original plan,” said Constantine. “In fact, those pieces were already recorded and edited. Essentially, they were "in the can” ready to be released. But we realized that during the time it took us to edit, EQ and master, our playing had seemingly grown quite a bit. We then— and Sebastian was the initiator of this plan— decided to can the recordings we already had and record the Brahms sonata and new pieces by Schemmer.”
That was the genesis for the new “Bäverstam/Finehouse” album and it is well worth the wait. It is Sebastian’s first authorized release and it features the complete Brahms Sonata No. 1 for piano and cello in E Minor, op. 38 as well as new works by Tony Schemmer, a High Romantic style modern composer. The album was tracked over a 3 day session in New York at the Sean Swinney Recording Studio. It took about a year to edit and master and was produced and released by Steve Hunt and his Spice Rack Records label.
“Our approach was to be prepared, as well as we could, so as to avoid doing too many takes,” said Constantine. “However, after we started recording, we had both realized that the more takes we were doing, the more natural and organic our playing was becoming. At that point, instead of imposing any sort of dogmatic idea on what a recording session should be or how many takes one must do, we just went with the flow of the moment and did what felt natural, which was to simply keep playing for as long as we had the energy.”
And natural it was. Constantine and Sebastian have known each other for over 8 years. They began working together when Sebastian was a 14-year old student at the New England Conservatory’s Preparatory Division. At that time, Constantine had just graduated from Yale with a Masters of Music and had recently moved back to Boston. In between performances, he would sit in as a hired accompanist. Luck joined them together and they played a movement of Brahms’ F major Sonata for one of the student recitals. The chemistry was undeniable even with their age differences. So they began playing numerous recitals throughout the north east.
Actually, Constantine has an uncanny knack of choosing amazing talent to work with. He recorded Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer William Bolcom’s complete works for violin and piano with his longtime partner, violinist Philip Ficsor. The album, called “The Bolcom Project” was met with such critical praise that Constantine is now working directly with Bolcom to record his complete piano solo works, which will be released in a series of 6 CD’s on Naxos Records. Constantine also performs with violinist Olga Caceànova, the winner of many international competitions, including the 2005 Kiev Violin Competition, the 2002 Sinai Competition in Rumania and the 2000 Luxembourg Music Competition.
Constantine was awarded the Vladimir Horowitz Scholarship from Juilliard and a 2004 St. Botolph Club Foundation Grant. He now serves on the faculty of New England Conservatory Preparatory and Extension Divisions in Boston and in the fall of 2011, he assumed the position of Visiting Artist/Faculty at Westmont College, Santa Barbara. He performs extensively throughout the world.
It’s not everyday that I get to correspond with a world-renown pianist who performs with some of the greatest talent in classical music. So I took advantage of the situation and I asked Constantine for advice about what I should be listening for while digesting a classical album. I was hoping that I’d learn a thing or two and that maybe one day, I’d be more qualified to write a classical music review. His advice is so poignant that I have to share.
Mike: How can I make my album listening experiences feel more live?
Constantine: I think the hard truth is— which puts the ball into the performer's court I suppose— that the ability of the listener to focus on the sound of recorded music without feeling the need for a "visual supplement" is directly related to the quality of the recorded performance. To put it simply, if it sounds great, you will be happy to hear the recording without feeling that something is missing and wanting to "see it'' in addition to listening to it.
As a listener of classical music, I find that the only time I can really get into it is when I drop everything else and focus only on that. Classical music can indeed be relaxing as an "accompaniment" to other tasks or be used as background, but the only way to really hear a performance is to make those sounds the only thing to which you are paying attention at the moment.
And with that, I’ll leave you with one last song to pay attention to. This is Constantine performing Richard Beaudoin's "Qui Tollis" as a solo.
Until next month — thank you for reading.
Want more? Click on the album cover:
Want to learn more about some of the topics covered above?
Learn more about American Double, a violin and piano duo dedicated to familiarizing audiences with well-established composers of American and European origin whose works for violin and piano are underrepresented in the concert repertoire.
Learn more about Constantine's project to record the complete piano works of GRAMMY-winning composer William Bolcom.
Listen to The Bolcom Project. Click on the album cover for more information:
Want more in-depth music reviews? Check out these other music features:
Mike Dias is a huge fan of music, of telling stories, and of laughing. And lucky for him, he’s somehow managed to make somewhat of living from this. He designs funny and creative apps for the iPhone. He is the music supervisor for Ultimate Ears and he writes about music and the music industry. He’s always happy to talk about artists, apps, and headphones so feel free to reach out about any of those topics. Email him directly.
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Edited by Mike Dias - 7/30/12 at 11:43am